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Martin, Jordan, and Erikson

#1 User is offline   Ceda Kuru Qan 

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Posted 11 February 2010 - 01:01 PM

Having read George R.R. Martin's first four novels of the Song of Ice and Fire series just before beginning GotM, I'm curious to compare and contrast the two authors. Things such as writing style, organization, character development, etc. Also, I have not read Jordan's Wheel of Time series, but I am also interested to know how it compares as well.
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#2 User is offline   SpectreofEschaton 

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Posted 11 February 2010 - 02:54 PM

For me, it's Martin, Bakker, and Erikson as the big three, but...I haven't read ASOIAF in over a decade so I'm not really good to compare them.

I think Jordan's fantasy is too much the classic hero's journey, at least in the beginnning. And getting bogged down as it continues isn't a mark in it's favor. Between cliches, borrowed ideas, and redundant descriptions, I just can't like it anymore (though I loved that series when I was younger).

R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing trilogy on the other hand is a work of astounding ingenuity. I think the series will rival the MBotF in scope and depth once it's fully complete. Bakker's world is brutal, realistic, unforgiving, and blacker than black. Not to mention, his protagonist, Anasurimbor Kellhus, is among the most unique, mysterious, and compelling main character's I've ever read about.

To compare him to Erikson, I think Bakker handles the big, philosophical issues better, but Erikson's world-building, verisimilitude, characterization, and delivering of climaxes push him ahead in my eyes.
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#3 User is offline   Cobbles 

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Posted 11 February 2010 - 03:25 PM

View PostSpectreofEschaton, on 11 February 2010 - 02:54 PM, said:

For me, it's Martin, Bakker, and Erikson as the big three, but...I haven't read ASOIAF in over a decade so I'm not really good to compare them.

I think Jordan's fantasy is too much the classic hero's journey, at least in the beginnning. And getting bogged down as it continues isn't a mark in it's favor. Between cliches, borrowed ideas, and redundant descriptions, I just can't like it anymore (though I loved that series when I was younger).

R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing trilogy on the other hand is a work of astounding ingenuity. I think the series will rival the MBotF in scope and depth once it's fully complete. Bakker's world is brutal, realistic, unforgiving, and blacker than black. Not to mention, his protagonist, Anasurimbor Kellhus, is among the most unique, mysterious, and compelling main character's I've ever read about.

To compare him to Erikson, I think Bakker handles the big, philosophical issues better, but Erikson's world-building, verisimilitude, characterization, and delivering of climaxes push him ahead in my eyes.


For me, it's also Erikson then Bakker. I'm only halfway through MBotF but it's my favorite so far. It's the scope and depth of Erikson's work which I find unparalleled. Of Bakker, I've read only the first three books yet. As I understand it, there's two more trilogies in the works and a fourth book has been published.

With regard to Martin and Jordan, they both feel dated and cliched. It's the 'farmboy->hero to save the world' story over and over again. In Jordan's case quite literally. In Martin's case the farmboys are the spawn of a local lord in the boonies. I think Martin could be better if his focus wouldn't be so much on the children. I think the biggest difference between Erikson, Bakker and one side and Martin, Jordan on the other is that former write for adult, mature readers. Of Jordan and Martin, I actually prefer Jordan over Martin, partly for nostalgic reasons, partly because I do enjoy most of the plot intricacies.

Finally, I think part of the discussion has to be the likelyhood and speed by which to finish monumental series. Jordan did not manage to finish, but at least he left sufficient notes for someone else to do it (and Sanderson did well). Erikson is practically finished. Bakker has a decent record, while Martin IMHO will never finish his series.

PS another fantasy work I enjoyed a lot is Mieville's Bas-Lag novels.
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Posted 11 February 2010 - 04:24 PM

Comparing these three authors is tricky as they are all going in somewhat different directions, but broadly speaking:

Erikson is writing a series of somewhat independent but inter-connected storylines which crossover with one another and several of which (but not all) are moving towards a culminating event in the tenth book (the final volume in the initial sub-series, although more are planned). Erikson writes excellent battle sequences, his plot structure is innovative and his imagination is frankly awe-inspiring. However, his grasp of character is extremely varied, with impressively-drawn and deep characters like Tool, Toc the Younger, Felisin Paran, Duiker and Trull Senger vying with remote and aloof figures like Tavore and Laseen you never really get a handle on to a lot of very cliched rough 'n' tumble soldiers with hearts of gold. He also uses magic as a get-out clause a little bit too often and whilst he attempts to engage with grander themes, they end up coming across a little trite (the extremely lengthy and character-focused eighth volume ends up having remarkably little to say other than having a good family is cool). The Malazan world's roots as a roleplaying game are also occasionally a little too obvious, particularly characters 'levelling' up between books, so characters who couldn't win a fight with a cat in Book 1 being able to cut their way through the cream of the imperial corps of assassins in Book 6 without breaking a sweat. Erikson's worldbuilding is impressively broad but also a little shallow. Nine books in, we know remarkably little about the detailed history of the Empire or the other nations involved in the books, or the backstories of major characters. His timeline is screwed up to hell and gone. Erikson's most successful novels, when everything worked as he wanted them to, were the second and third (and almost the fifth, after a faltering start), and it does feel since then that he has failed to recapture the success of those books, whilst still writing good books.

At the same time, he has MFing T'lan Imass, who are genuinely one of the most interesting and greatest races developed in the history of fantasy.

Robert Jordan, on the other hand, is attempting to tell the definitive ur-story of the traditional epic fantasy. Shepherd's son, grand destiny, chosen by fate and prophecy, etc. He writes in an engaging - if slightly repetitive - manner and he has the best magic system ever developed for fantasy, with remorselessly logical rules and interesting uses of it. His characters tend to be broadly drawn and clearly influenced by archetypes, but the details get filled in and they become more interesting as the books progress, although the main characters do disappear a lot later on in favour of minor new characters. Jordan's major problem is that Books 8-10 of the series are drawn out and stuffed with filler, and it takes until halfway through Book 11 before the series gets back on track. Luckily, the remainder of the book and all of Book 12 are pretty much excellent, giving hopes of the final two volumes forming a worthy conclusion to the overall series, despite the longeurs. Jordan's worldbuilding is excellent, almost flawless with little in the way of continuity errors or mistakes. He also engages with grander themes like the mutability of knowledge and the hero's journey in a decent manner. In particular, Jordan uses his experiences in Vietnam to illuminate the fact that young adventurers in an epic fantasy land would probably start experiencing PTSD problems as the months and years of war, struggle and constant stress wear on, something a lot of other fantasy authors skip over. The series starts off very light, almost YA, but quickly becomes rather darker and the later volumes see some fairly disturbing incidents taking place.

George R.R. Martin falls somewhere between the two. His worldbuilding is very deep but not tremendously broad. His story occupies a relatively small amount of his world in comparison of the other two. He is also much more interested by, and much better at depicting, intrigue, politics and power-games between factions. GRRM has much less magic than the other two, which removes a crutch Jordan and Erikson lean on at times. That said, GRRM does seem to get a little too happy with cliffhangers as the series progresses, particularly in the fourth volume. Martin's use of themes is more straightforward than the other two, with the series focusing around the questions of power, responsibility and the law, which are interestingly handled. Martin's ace in the hole is his characters, who are easily the best out of the three series under discussion, being fully-realised with complex motivations and mixed goals. Martin's biggest weakness is his slow writing time, with Book 5 almost being finished (after five years writing) but two more volumes to come which will likely take most of the next decade, whilst Erikson and Jordan (or, more accurately, his successor writer Brandon Sanderson, Jordan being sadly deceased) will finish their series much more quickly.

I'd say these three writers, alongside Scott Bakker, Joe Abercrombie, Guy Gavriel Kay, Daniel Abraham and Paul Kearney (plus Scott Lynch and Patrick Rothfuss, if their next books are good), are definitely at the top tier of modern epic fantasy authors, and anyone with a strong interest in the genre should check out all three.
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#5 User is offline   Iconik 

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Posted 11 February 2010 - 05:20 PM

Glen Cook, Steven Erikson, Tad Williams.

Martin, Goodkind, and Jordan et al are markedly dry, cliche and bland. I don't know how anyone gets through all those books.
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#6 User is offline   Arielas 

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Posted 11 February 2010 - 07:40 PM

I have to second the notion of Glen Cook being considered as one of the best alongside Martin, Bakker, and Erikson. His books, while "shallower" then the other 3, convey the same sense of adventure that the much longer books do. He manages to distill the core essences of the characters and plots into his book while not losing their impact on the reader. He shows that not every story has to be decompressed to be considered epic.


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#7 User is offline   Werthead 

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Posted 11 February 2010 - 09:15 PM

View PostArielas, on 11 February 2010 - 07:40 PM, said:

I have to second the notion of Glen Cook being considered as one of the best alongside Martin, Bakker, and Erikson. His books, while "shallower" then the other 3, convey the same sense of adventure that the much longer books do. He manages to distill the core essences of the characters and plots into his book while not losing their impact on the reader. He shows that not every story has to be decompressed to be considered epic.


Much the same can be said for David Gemmell, who probably should rank alongside the other top-tier epic fantasy authors (I excluded Cook only because I haven't read him as yet).
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#8 User is offline   Aptorian 

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Posted 11 February 2010 - 09:32 PM

View PostIconik, on 11 February 2010 - 05:20 PM, said:

Martin, Goodkind, and Jordan et al are markedly dry, cliche and bland. I don't know how anyone gets through all those books.


Comparing these three authors is... heresy.

Martin is levels above the other two in storytelling quality. Even though it's been some 6 years since I last read Martins work, he still stands out as one of the finest character builders and story tellers I remember. While the switching back and forth between characters per chapter approach gets annoying (the woman chapters are dreadful) the ASOIAF series is amazing.

Jordan is like the master of the generic fantasy worlds and all that follows. Farmboys, dark lords, magical swords, kings and peasants, etc. His problem is that his story suffers under endless travel time, hundreds of pages of filler material and characters who get so emo you want to cut your own wrists.

Goodkinds series pretty much rips off everything that is good about the Wheel of Time, and then shits all over otherwise interesting characters like the Seeker and the Confessor. Goodkind is an idiot who wouldn't be able to put together a proper plot for a series if he was writing pixie books. It is painfully obvious that he wrote each book with no consideration for what was going to happen in the next book.

This post has been edited by Aptorian: 11 February 2010 - 09:34 PM

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#9 User is offline   KeithF 

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Posted 11 February 2010 - 11:57 PM

Like Apt, I'm amazed to see Martin being put in the same class as Jordan and Goodkind and compared unfavourably with Erikson on the same grounds as them. Martin's series is far more serious and mature than Jordan's, even though he uses child POV characters - indeed, some of the child POV chapters contain some of the darkest parts of the series (Arya's plotline, for example).

ASOIAF is a lot less 'high fantasy' than MBotF, so I can see how people might prefer the latter as a work of fantasy, but it bears about as much resemblance to cookie-cutter mass-produced 'farmboy heroes and spunky princesses' fantasy as Erikson's work does.

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#10 User is offline   amphibian 

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Posted 12 February 2010 - 05:21 AM

Wert's bravura post above is a great example of how individual tastes differ.

View PostWerthead, on 11 February 2010 - 04:24 PM, said:

(the extremely lengthy and character-focused eighth volume ends up having remarkably little to say other than having a good family is cool)

Toll the Hounds had more to say than that. It was the end of the road for some very visible plot-lines and it was a stretching of Erikson's writing abilities that I continue to applaud. I agree with much of your other criticisms, while sticking to "Erikson's books are so awesome that you will forgive him the flaws".

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[Jordan] writes in an engaging - if slightly repetitive - manner and he has the best magic system ever developed for fantasy, with remorselessly logical rules and interesting uses of it.

This is where you and I differ drastically. I thought Jordan's magic system was pure bunkum and weirdly sexist. Furthermore, his relative lack of continuity errors is because he doesn't go much of anywhere out of ambition. His stories have essentially been done before and are pretty linear in their progression, while Erikson hops around between eons and different worlds.

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I'd say these three writers, alongside Scott Bakker, Joe Abercrombie, Guy Gavriel Kay, Daniel Abraham and Paul Kearney (plus Scott Lynch and Patrick Rothfuss, if their next books are good), are definitely at the top tier of modern epic fantasy authors, and anyone with a strong interest in the genre should check out all three.

You have completely left out Gene Wolfe. Shame on you, Wert.
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#11 User is offline   Use Of Weapons 

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Posted 12 February 2010 - 02:59 PM

I would disagree with the 'Jordan WoT is a classic hero's journey' statement above. The point of the cliche hero's journey is that the hero discovers himself (or herself, let's not be sexist) through the progression of the plot. WoT's brilliance was in subverting this, making the hero obvious, having him self-aware, struggling to satisfy prophecies, proving himself to doubters, while all the time doing what heroes always have to do in any case. It was a brilliant subversion of the cliche, and a hugely under-appreciated reason for WoT's success.
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#12 User is offline   champ 

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Posted 12 February 2010 - 03:56 PM

loved SE, enjoyed Martin, hated Jordon

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#13 User is offline   Werthead 

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Posted 12 February 2010 - 04:01 PM

View Postamphibian, on 12 February 2010 - 05:21 AM, said:

You have completely left out Gene Wolfe. Shame on you, Wert.


Gene Wolfe is not an epic fantasy author :rolleyes:

If we were talking about the wider fantasy field, Wolfe would be right up there.
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#14 User is offline   polishgenius 

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Posted 12 February 2010 - 05:14 PM

Is Lynch really writing epic fantasy? It's always struck me as somewhat stretching the definition.
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#15 User is offline   amphibian 

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Posted 12 February 2010 - 08:42 PM

View PostWerthead, on 12 February 2010 - 04:01 PM, said:

Gene Wolfe is not an epic fantasy author :rofl:

What is The Wizard Knight - if not epic fantasy?

I can accept the classification of the Solar books as science fiction and the Latro books as sword-and-sorcery (as it takes place on our world), but Able has his adventures in completely different worlds with different rules - the hallmark of epic fantasy.
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#16 User is offline   polishgenius 

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Posted 12 February 2010 - 09:02 PM

View Postamphibian, on 12 February 2010 - 08:42 PM, said:

I can accept the classification of the Solar books as science fiction and the Latro books as sword-and-sorcery (as it takes place on our world), but Able has his adventures in completely different worlds with different rules - the hallmark of epic fantasy.



That's a hallmark of epic fantasy - it's hardly the only thing a work needs to qualify. I haven't read Wizard Knight myself so I can't refute that specifically, but by that definition things like Narnia, the Ambregris books by VanDerMeer, Mieville's Bas-Lag, and basically any work of fantasy not set in our world is epic fantasy. Not to mention quite possibly Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland.
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#17 User is offline   Obdigore 

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Posted 12 February 2010 - 10:15 PM

View Postpolishgenius, on 12 February 2010 - 09:02 PM, said:

View Postamphibian, on 12 February 2010 - 08:42 PM, said:

I can accept the classification of the Solar books as science fiction and the Latro books as sword-and-sorcery (as it takes place on our world), but Able has his adventures in completely different worlds with different rules - the hallmark of epic fantasy.



That's a hallmark of epic fantasy - it's hardly the only thing a work needs to qualify. I haven't read Wizard Knight myself so I can't refute that specifically, but by that definition things like Narnia, the Ambregris books by VanDerMeer, Mieville's Bas-Lag, and basically any work of fantasy not set in our world is epic fantasy. Not to mention quite possibly Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland.


The Wizard Knight duo has angels, giants, demons, gods, lords, ladies, dragons, elves, different worlds, time travel, and a young man who has nothing and becomes nearly a god. Along the way he saves kingdoms, kills evil things, has moral decisions, and ends up changing this existance. How could it be anything except Epic Fantasy?
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#18 User is offline   polishgenius 

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Posted 12 February 2010 - 10:23 PM

The Book of All Hours by Hal Duncan has all of those things apart from the giants, dragons and elves and doesn't really qualify as epic fantasy. But like I said, I can't quibble with defining Wizard Knight in particular as that, since I've not read it.
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#19 User is offline   KeithF 

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Posted 12 February 2010 - 10:34 PM

View Postjitsukerr, on 12 February 2010 - 02:59 PM, said:

I would disagree with the 'Jordan WoT is a classic hero's journey' statement above. The point of the cliche hero's journey is that the hero discovers himself (or herself, let's not be sexist) through the progression of the plot. WoT's brilliance was in subverting this, making the hero obvious, having him self-aware, struggling to satisfy prophecies, proving himself to doubters, while all the time doing what heroes always have to do in any case. It was a brilliant subversion of the cliche, and a hugely under-appreciated reason for WoT's success.


Yes, this is one of the more original parts of the series (though it's not *that* original or clever, and it doesn't so much subvert the cliche as just lampshade it repeatedly). However, the execution of the plot and characters and the lack of depth to the world (especially compared to, say, Erikson) are the real problem with the series, to me, which isn't to say I never enjoy it.
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#20 User is offline   Obdigore 

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Posted 12 February 2010 - 10:38 PM

View Postpolishgenius, on 12 February 2010 - 10:23 PM, said:

The Book of All Hours by Hal Duncan has all of those things apart from the giants, dragons and elves and doesn't really qualify as epic fantasy. But like I said, I can't quibble with defining Wizard Knight in particular as that, since I've not read it.


Oh yea, well is Hal's main character on a quest to get a sword so he can pull a Kirk and nail the hot green chick? Ya, I didn't think so!

No seriously, when you read something, you can tell if it is epic/high/sword*sorcery/dark or what. Wizard Knight is Epic. The Epic Quest, in the Epic Environments, Meeting Epic peoples and doing Epic Tasks.

Something that a book(s) like Latro in the Mist (and the egypt followup which name I cannot remember) lacks. I actually like the Latro stuff more, but it should not ever have that 'Epic' moniker hung about it.
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